Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman has been working energetically over the past few weeks to separate the functions of the attorney general and fundamentally change the significance of the position. Neeman is worried over the current contradiction, in his view, between the attorney general's two obligations: to provide ministers with a binding legal opinion, and to decide when to approve the opening of a police investigation against them, or against the prime minister, which could end in an indictment. Neeman's solution is a weakened attorney general whose advice is merely a recommendation, alongside a "general prosecutor" who would be in charge of the state prosecutor.
Behind Neeman's declared desire to streamline the offices of the attorney general and the state prosecution, and to ease the burden on the attorney general, this unacceptable view clearly stands out as an attempt to go back to a time when politicians were above the law. A determined attorney general who refuses to act leniently toward politicians, of the type of Aharon Barak in the mid-1970s and Menachem Mazuz of the past two years, is inconvenient for politicians. They see him as a golem who has turned against its creators, of which they want to regain control.
Neeman, who is not an elected official but rather an attorney in private practice who joins the government from time to time at the behest of Benjamin Netanyahu, first in the Justice Ministry, then in the Finance Ministry and again in Justice, has mistakenly interpreted the attorney general's role as the attorney for the current cabinet. In fact, the attorney general represents the state and the law, and therefore does not leave his post in favor of a new attorney general when a new cabinet is installed.
The attorney general heads the law enforcement system, which includes, in addition to responsibility for the accepted and binding interpretation of the law, the state prosecutor's office, legal counsels to the various ministries and the police investigations division.
This system needs unified command. The criminal realm is connected to legislation, and separation would be artificial.
A committee headed a decade ago by Meir Shamgar - who has served both as attorney general and Supreme Court president - considered the idea of splitting the attorney general's function, and rejected it. No new circumstances have been created that would justify overturning the Shamgar Committee's recommendation. Splitting up the attorney general's position would only weaken the rule of law.
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